J.D. Moyer

sci-fi writer, beat maker, self-experimenter

No Car Update: Month 16

Not my car. Probably not your car either.

So we gave up. Or gave in. After more than a year without a car, we decided to get one.

We knew we wanted a hatchback. You can fit anything in a hatchback. One time we purchased a bunch of furniture at IKEA, pulled our Fiat 500 into the loading zone next to a guy in a Ford F-150 (that’s a biggish pickup truck, for you European readers). He gave us a dubious look until we popped the hatch, folded down the back seat, and loaded in those flat-packs no problem. I think we got a tiny nod of appreciation.

After reading too many reviews and watching too many YouTube video reviews, I narrowed it down to the Yaris, the Prius c (both Toyota), the VW Golf or eGolf, and the Honda Fit. I created an account on TrueCar to get some estimates. I also called a few dealerships directly to get some lease quotes.

That’s when things started going south.

The hard-sell phone calls and emails started coming in. From multiple dealerships for each car I’d expressed any amount of interest in. Should have been obvious up front, but TrueCar’s business is lead generation for dealerships. I ignored the messages piling up in my inbox, and finally blocked the more persistent callers. I wasn’t ready to make a decision yet, and I hate the hard sell.

Also, the deals weren’t that good. When we leased the Fiat, it was $0 down, $200/mo. No such deals around at the moment. Everyone wanted thousands up front, and the advertised lease deals didn’t include dealer fees and bunch of other fees. Buying a car didn’t look any better, with monthly payments much higher than we wanted to spend.

Of course there’s the option of buying a used car, but used car shopping sounded like even more of a hassle.

So I said “F— it, I’ll walk.”Or ride my bike. Or take Lyft (even if they don’t know quite where they’re going half the time). I like almost all of the drivers I meet, and I’m getting better about backseat driving.

“Kia, I’m tired of the car shopping thing. Do you want to take over?”

“No.”

(That’s how our relationship works, in regards to household management. There’s no nagging. We both do a lot of work around the house, but if neither of us feels sufficiently motivated to do something, it goes undone. Our front yard is a jungle of weeds right now.)

When it came down to it, the hassle of walking and biking and using taxi services was less than the hassle of buying and owning/leasing a car. At least for the moment. So the experiment continues. Month 16.

The Latest Numbers

I’ve been carefully tracking our combined transportation expenses (car rental, Lyft, additional public transportation, gas money for friends, etc.) since we started the experiment in February 2016. For the first eight months, we averaged $302/mo. in combined transportation expenses.

Here’s the cost breakdown for the most recent eight months (with May estimated):

October expenses: $205
City CarShare: $119
JD Lyft: $20
Kia Lyft: $16
Amortized bike + extra public trans + gas contributions: $50

November expenses: $279
JD Lyft: $153
Kia Lyft: $82
GetAround: $44
Amortized bike + extra public trans + gas contributions: $30

December expenses: $506
JD Lyft: $169
Kia Lyft: $131
3-day vacation car rental: $158
Rental gas: $18
Amortized bike + extra public trans + gas contributions: $30

January expenses $275
JD Lyft: $151
Kia Lyft: $114
Extra public trans and gas contributions: $10

February expenses $167
JD Lyft: $27
Kia Lyft: $130
Extra public trans and gas contributions: $10

March expenses: $339
JD Lyft: $69
Kia Lyft: $108
Extra public trans and gas contributions: $10
Car rental $106
Car rental gas: $12
Getaround $34

April expenses: $369
JD Lyft: $104
Kia Lyft: $110
Extra public trans and gas contributions: $42
Car rental: $100
Car rental gas: $13

May estimated expenses $250

That comes to $299/mo. on average, almost exactly the same as we averaged for the first eight months of the experiment.

I have car-owning friends who spend less than that on average, and some who pay much more. One friend drives an old reliable Corolla and averages less than $150/mo. on car expenses, including gas, insurance, and maintenance (the car is paid off and she parks for free). Another couple each has their own car and probably pay in excess of $700/mo. including lease fees, insurance, gas, parking, and maintenance.

If we bought one of the above hatchbacks new and drove it for ten years, average costs (payments, fuel, insurance, maintenance and repair, registration, parking, tolls, etc.) would come to about $380/month. Leasing the same class of car continuously would probably run us about $450-500/month.

There are other cost considerations that are harder to calculate, like medical expenses. I probably could have avoided breaking my foot if I’d been driving instead of skateboarding. Out-of-pocket medical expenses were about $1600 for doctor’s appointments, X-rays, etc. On the other hand, in the long-term, more walking and biking is probably good for my cardiovascular health, and might save me medical expenses down the road. So I’ll call that a wash.

Ultimately the costs are close enough that it’s not the deciding factor. We’re saving money over our previous lease situation (on average $150/month), but if we committed to long-term ownership of an economy car we could probably spend about the same as we’re spending now, with more convenience. But also with less exercise, and a less-green energy profile, and more time spent on car maintenance, parking, and paperwork.

More Walking

The biggest benefit is that we walk more, and all of us are acclimated to long walks, including the nine-year-old (who regularly walks 1.5 miles home from her new school once or twice a week with no or minimal complaining). Last night I walked a mile to meet a friend for a drink–a short distance, and too short to Lyft, but probably one I would have driven if I’d had a car. I haven’t been using any kind of step-counting device (paradoxically, I found that using them made me walk less) but I’d estimate I’ve doubled my number of steps per day.

Walking is also the biggest downside of not owning a car. I do less hiking in Oakland’s beautiful parks, which I miss.

So, taking it month by month. Within a few months I could see us once again owning a car. The amalgamation of methods we’re using for school drop-off and pick-up is a hassle. But so is the process of acquiring a car, and then dealing with it (parking, paying, maintaining) once you’ve got it. I feel extremely ambivalent.

For those that have been following this series … I will keep you posted!

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7 Comments

  1. Allison

    Buy a used car! It’s really not that hard, if you know what you want (you can test drive at a dealership to start). Buy something 3-4 years old and you’ll save all that depreciation. Although I’m impressed that you only paid $150/mo for your lease. It seems like the old calculus that leasing was a bad move financially is no longer true. I have a 9 year-old civic and the monthly cost (for just the purchase of the car) is $125, and will keep going down, of course.

    Anyway, I’m impressed that you’ve made it this long without a car! I live in Oakland too, and it’s hard to imagine being car-less. Cool experiment!

    • Hello fellow Oaklander! We might end up doing that. Though I’ve had better experiences with the cars I’ve bought or purchased new. It’s hard to know exactly how well the car was maintained by the previous owner.

      • Allison

        Hi! That’s true; a new car is a clean slate. My current car had only 15k when I bought it, so it would’ve been hard to mistreat in that time. I’m also married to a guy who loves to buy and sell vehicles. 🙂

        I was glad to read below that you liked your VW Golfs, as that’s the next car I’m maybe interested in in a year or two.

  2. Benoit Chouinard architecte

    You make a good analysis of car’s ownership for the frugal one. I kept 10 years the last car I owned (that were almost brand new) and the budget you have mentionned is right on the target. However, consider it as a minimum. I consider myself as well informed about mechanical problems and I have the luck to know and frequent the same car mecanic since 40 years because he is excellent and honest. It is easy to spend useless dollars in bad repairs because of a bad maintenance habit.
    If you want to respect this budget, it will be the ”sine qua non” condition: Find a good car mecanic, then get the good car. The choice you have mentionned seem to be ok except for the more expansive Prius. Stay away from the Fiat 500. My son is in the business of car renting (Enterprise) and they experienced many problems with that car .

    I like very much to read you because you dont write nonsense.

    • Glad to know you don’t think I write nonsense! (Though you could probably find some on this blog if you looked hard enough.)

      Both VW Golfs I’ve owned have been really reliable. But trust in the company way down after the emissions scandal …

  3. Tudor

    Hey,

    First of all i want to say that your blog is the only one that i read and i enjoy it very much. Keep up the good work!

    Second, even if I’m more of a walking/public transportation guy and i know a lot about cars(i repair most of my family fleet – 5 cars) and have several friends that are mechanics for a living, i drawn to a conclusion that owning a car saves you a lot of time in some cases.

    What i want to recommend is, if you decide to buy a car in the near future, used or new, to buy one with a good engine. And the best i know at recent times is the EcoBoost(petrol, 3 cylinders, low gas consumption) from Ford .. I highly recommend it and i think it’s not even that expensive, Fiesta being the most selled car in the world last year a d i think it will release a new one soon so maybe you can get a great deal on it(i own one from 2007, really liked the car overall, but the old model had a peugeot engine – duratorq 1.4 – that was not that great and gave me hard times everytime i had to work on it – a lot – french engine design always something to look out for, never know what more stupid useless thing they invent).

    Third, i can say you can reduce costs overall if you do the usual maintenance work yourself, changing oil(every 8000miles) and filters is not that hard and prolongs the overall life of the car.

    • Thanks for the engine tips. When I did maintain my own car I knew just enough to be dangerous and I’m not sure if I ever saved any money. Whatever we get, I will probably leave the maintenance to the experts.

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